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Classroom Observations

Having an Eberly colleague or teaching consultant observe your classroom is a potentially useful way to get feedback about your strengths and weaknesses as an instructor and to get suggestions for further improvements. To be a valuable assessment process, the instructor must trust in the credibility of the evidence based on the observation. Credibility is influenced by why the observations are taking place, who is doing the observations, what is being observed, and when the observations are taking place. When the observations are conducted for the primary purpose of improvement, and are initiated or welcomed by the instructor, the interaction is most likely to be trusted and valued. Further, when the observers are experienced in both observing and giving feedback, the quality of the feedback will be higher. To ensure that you get the most out of the experience, consider the following:

Meet with the observer before the first classroom observation.

  • Share relevant course materials, the goals of the course, and the goals for the class that will be observed.
  • Discuss any particular concerns or requirements you have regarding the observations. For example, if you worried about how your students will react to another colleague in the room or what they might infer is the reason, raise this issue with the observer and discuss a strategy that will alleviate your concerns. Similarly, tell the observer if you want him to stay in a particular location, or move locations at specific times.
  • Discuss the number of classes you want observed. More than one is preferable, especially if the observations are for reasons other than improvement.

Decide on the areas of focus.

Observers cannot record every interaction or event that occurs so beforehand discuss your areas of focus.

  • What aspects of your teaching or classroom interaction are you interested in getting feedback on?
  • What areas do you not want feedback on?
  • Do you have priorities? (things that you definitely want or would be interested in if the observer is able to capture them)

Some common areas of focus are organization of content, clarity of the presentation and explanations, ability to ask and answer questions, and establishing and maintaining student engagement. Be clear about what you want so you can be sure to get feedback on the areas that are most important to you.

Discuss the method that will be used to record the observations.

There are a variety of methods that can be used to collect observational data, such as checklists, rating scales, or written notes. The choice of method depends in part on the reason for the observation and how the data is to be used. Think about what kind of data will be most useful to you.

Arrange a debriefing meeting with the observer soon after the observation.

  • Ask for specific examples of the behaviors or activities associated with his perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses.
  • If you also had the class videotaped, review it as you discuss the observers’ analysis.
  • Discuss strategies for addressing your weaknesses.

Close the Loop.

After you receive feedback and act on it, reassess to find out if what you did worked. Arrange for additional follow-up observations and ask the observer to focus on the aspects of your teaching that you changed.

Set up a classroom observation.

Your colleagues at the Eberly Center have considerable experience conducting classroom observations.
CONTACT US to talk with an Eberly colleague in person!

Braskamp, L.A. & Ory, J.C. (1994). Assessing faculty work:  Enhancing individual and institutional performance. Jossy-Bass: San Francisco.